A somewhat fanciful interpretation of history, but a very compelling and enthralling one.
United Kingdom, May 1940, and the Germany Nazi forces have begun their takeover of Europe. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom is anything but; with the current Prime Minister being deemed unfit for the task by his own party and the opposing party. Appointed as the new PM, Winston Churchill steps into the limelight and into an impossible situation.
World War II still stands as one of the biggest examples of human perseverance and inextinguishable hope, and as such it has been studied in film for years and from most perspectives. Darkest Hour is a drama piece, more similar to Spielberg’s Lincoln than any such action spectacles as Nolan’s Dunkirk or Mendes’ 1917. It follows Britain’s earliest moments in the conflict with the promotion of Churchill and his first action to carry out Operation Dynamo at the beaches of Dunkirk. All from his perspective.
This lends itself to explore the tremendous infighting and doubts that plagued Westminster when facing the uncertain future of a potential war with Germany. Primarily how close the British Government apparently were to discussing peace with Nazi Germany, and how Churchill’s war cabinet were fiercely opposing everything he suggested for a fightback.
Churchill is played exceptionally well by Gary Oldman, the second actor to play the man in films released in 2017 (Brian Cox also playing him in the film Churchill,) and definitely deserving of his Academy Award for the performance. The film does well to not promote the man as an instant hero; in fact it initially represents Churchill as intensely unlikable, intensely bumbling, sheltered, and seemingly incapable of being decisive. Being practically buried beneath his political rivals’ opposition.
All of this, is extremely evocative of British (and in part, American too) political systems, and the film does draw some parallels to today’s backward sensibilities.
The film is beautifully made, as well as performed. There is little to argue against when talking about the direction from Joe Wright (who has certainly redeemed himself after the box office flat-line that was 2015’s Pan) the film’s pacing and storyline are delivered with elegance and intention.
One has to wonder though if this portrayal of Churchill is a little too… perfect, despite the initial signs that he was an imperfect individual. Upon release, the film was met with some criticism for the representation of the man; most condemning the visualisation of Churchill taking the London underground (for an honestly bafflingly long time between stops) to speak candidly with the working classes. It was a emotionally poignant moment in context of the film’s story, certainly, but it did feel quite fabricated for the sake of pacing and dramatic storytelling purposes.
Director Joe Wright has said that he felt strong parallels with his film’s story and the current turmoil within the United States. However dedicated Oldman was to his performance, which shines above everything else, it is evident that the production had other motivations besides historical accuracy.
But with today’s volatile political landscape, both in the UK and the USA, the film’s fanciful patriotism is still heartwarming. It is hard to hold a grudge against something if it shows the potential of human spirit to rise against adversity and its refusal to submit to hate.
It is definitely a recommended watch, and it is on Netflix now. Just remember that not all of it is 100% historically accurate.